KP, Punjab polls delay case: SC rejects govt's request to form full court

KP, Punjab polls delay case: SC rejects govt's request to form full court

Islamabad (Web Desk): The Supreme Court (SC) on Friday rejected Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan's request to form a full court on the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) election delay case.

A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, comprising Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar resumed the hearing following the recusal of Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail.

The original five-member top court bench included Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Amin-Ud-Din Khan, and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail.

The hearing began at 2pm today after a delay in its scheduled time of 11:30am because of the recusal of a judge.

The recusal of Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, which came a day after Justice Aminuddin Khan, took the top court by surprise today and fuelled calls from government figures to constitute a full court to hear the case.

As the proceeding resumed, chairman of the executive committee of the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) Hassan Raza Pasha appeared before the bench. However.

The CJP maintained that the PBC officeholder would be heard later, to which Pasha stated that the bar had nothing to do with supporting anyone. He suggested that if a full-court bench could not be formed then the SC should hold a full-court session.

He said that the bench was considering taking that measure and added that the relationship between the judges was “good”.

Pasha, however, stated that yesterday and today, two judges excused themselves from hearing the matter, and the CJP told him to meet him in his chambers regarding that issue.

“Today is the first time you have come to the court, prove yourself by actions, not by words,” Justice Bandial advised, reinviting Pasha to his chambers. He added that the president of the Supreme Court Bar had been in touch with him.

“Our life would have been peaceful if it was only about the external image, media personnel also sometimes report wrong things,” CJP Bandial said, adding that the court always showed restraint.

The CJP maintained that he would conduct some meetings after the hearing and hoped that “Monday’s sun would rise with good news”.

He said that the attorney general (AG) could raise whatever point he wanted to, to which the AG requested the court to 'lower the rising temperatures across the country' – signaling to the turmoil rising from the disagreement within the court itself.

When asked by the CJP what the AG had done to lower the temperatures, he stated that 'temperatures may reduce over time'.

The CJP said that the court always gave precedence to the Constitution and that the Constitution and democracy had to be kept alive.

Justice Bandial said that those in prison until very recently were now addressing the National Assembly because the people chose them as representatives.

The CJP remarked that the 90-day deadline for holding Punjab Assembly polls as per the Constitution expired in April.

He said that the president was supposed to give the date 15 days after the stipulates 90-day period and that the ECP did not inform the president about the security situation and the problems with holding the polls on April 30.

“If the president had an idea about the situation then he would not have given the April 30 date,” said the CJP. He added that the issue before the court was the date of October 8.

“The court did not sit to create problems. Tell the court a solid reason or start a dialogue,” the CJP said.

Justice Bandia said that term of the assemblies will also be completed in August. If there are negotiations between the government and the opposition, a break will be taken for a few days.

"If negotiations do not take place, we will play our constitutional role," the CJP said.

The CJP also inquired about the expenses of Rs20 billion to hold separate polls and the security issue with half the polling stations categorised “highly sensitive”.

Referring to the reason given earlier which highlighted terrorism in the country, Justice Bandial said such elements were present since the 90s. He added that the court was told that the forces were busy at the border and that the matter would also have to be looked into.

The AG argued that on the first day, a request was made to constitute a full court, to which the chief justice stated that reasoning must be given for that notion and that the matter of constituting a full court was already on his mind.

Upon this the CJP said that there is a lot to keep in mind while creating a judicial bench, one thing is that routine cases are not affected.

The CJP also explained that at times judge are not in the same city as they are visiting the registries of the apex court in other cities.

He maintained that all judges were considered while constituting the nine-judge bench and listed judges who were experts of the Constitution. The chief justice also highlighted that Justice Mazhar Naqvi was added to send a silent message.

“Justice Faiz Isa's case went on for two years and the court was punished. For Justice Faiz Isa, the case was a punishment. There is a political case based on which other judges were targeted,” he said, adding that all judges were being targeted on hearsay.

He continued that the SC was unified in some cases and no one saw how the judiciary was being affected, and how people in important positions were targeting the judiciary.

The AGP said he would conclude his arguments quickly and the CJP instructed him to talk about the case, including matters pertaining to finances and funds.

The AGP stated that the court should listen to political parties first and he would inform the court at a later time regarding the financial situation.

Justice Bandial said Farooq H. Naik, Akram Shaikh and Kamran Murtaza would also be heard, but he wanted to hear the State of Pakistan first.
Justice Muneeb Akhtar asked him if the elections could be delayed till October 8.

“The matter is not about Rs20 billion, it is about the entire economy. The country is facing a deficit of Rs1,500 billion, and until June 30, the interest rate can go up to 22%. Rising interest rates increase debt,” the AGP said.

The CJP asked if the new rate of interest applied to past loans and Justice Akthar questioned how much money did the government have in the treasury presently, and how much money was there in federal consolidated funds.

“If Rs20 billion is spent, how much will the deficit increase,” he inquired, adding that election expenses were probably less than one percent of the deficit.

“Rs170 billion is expected in the supplementary budget, if the whole sum is collected,” the AG said and informed the court that the funds were under the control of the Ministry of Finance.

Justice Akhtar asked the AGP to read the rules of 2019 and inform the court about who controls the funds, asking him to review the rules under the Public Financial Management Act. He added that according to the rules, the consolidated funds are in the State Bank, and instructed the AGP to call the State Bank and ask how much money they have.

“The Election Commission is looking at the government, The commission says that if the funds are available, the election will be held on April 30,” he added.

The CJP contended that having money in the funds and having it available for spending were two different things and that the central bank had to keep money and gold reserves.

Subsequently, the apex court rejected the Attorney General's plea to constitute a full court for the time being.

Justice Akhtar expressed displeasure over the AGP’s request and termed it “forum shopping”.

The three-judge bench summoned the defence and finance secretaries to provide assistance with holding general elections of provincial assemblies.

Later the court adjourned the hearing till Monday (April 3).

Meanwhile, the SC in a circular on Friday “disregarded” a judgment authored by Justice Qazi Faez Isa ordering the postponement of suo motu cases till amendments are made in the Supreme Court Rules 1980 regarding the discretionary powers of the chief justice to form benches.